Cover image for Achilles
Cook, Elizabeth.
Personal Author:
First Picador USA edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 2002.

Physical Description:
115 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Methuen, 2001.
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This powerful, passionate, and beautifully crafted retelling of the epic tale of Achilles re-creates Homer's fated hero in a new and striking reality. Born of the Sea nymph Thetis by the mortal King Peleus, and hidden as a girl until Odysseus discovers him, Achilles becomes the Greeks' greatestr warrior at Troy. Into his story comes a cast of fascinating characters--among them, Hector, Helen, Penthiseleia the Amazon Queen, and the centaur Chiron; and finally John Keats, whose writingsform the basis of a meditation on the nature of identity and shared experience.

An forgettable and deeply moving work of fiction, Achilles is also an affirmation of the story's enduring power to reach across centuries and cultures to the core of our imagination.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Cook has published short fiction and poetry, as well as scholarly works on Renaissance literature. She has also written for television and the theater. She lives in London

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

With all the backstory and ongoing action in the Iliad, it is easy to forget the opening lines' pronouncement that the epic is about one man, Achilles, who, scorned by the Greek leader Agamemnon, is sitting out the war. But only Achilles can ensure Greek victory, only he can vanquish the Trojan champion Hector. Of course, after Hector slays Achilles' boon companion, Patroclus, the great hero does destroy Hector, only to be killed soon after by a divinely guided arrow. The matter of Troy continues without him. Cook opens her inspired retelling of Achilles' story with a proem on the conjunction of Styx, the underworld river of death, and a surface river, possibly Troy's Scamander but conceivably any stream that fosters life. She flashes forward to homebound Odysseus' encounter with Achilles in Hades, then unfurls his story, from his birth as the offspring of a goddess and a man, to his mother's vain attempt to hide him from his fate by dressing him as a girl, to the nine years he grew to manhood on the plain before Troy, to the events reported in the Iliad. In language more chaste and essential than prose fiction normally employs, Cook points up the primal quality of Achilles' story, so that we see its tragedy--that the supremely gifted, too, must die--as utterly universal. An Achilles or a Keats, as Cook argues by means of a coda about the great young hero of Romantic poetry, comes but once in an epoch to make us grasp our immortal glory and our mortal ignominy securely enough to celebrate as well as despair. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

With this brilliantly conceived retelling of the plight of one of Homer's heroes, British writer Cook demonstrates the same skill that has made her poetry and examinations of Renaissance literature so wonderfully memorable. Cleaving closely to the Odyssey but embellishing her tale with sharply imagined creative flourishes, Cook navigates the rise and fall of the powerful Greek warrior Achilles, tragic hero of the Trojan War. Voluptuously chronicling the warrior's youth, Cook tells how he is dipped in the immortalizing waters of the river Styx (except for the legendary heel) and spends his youth cloaked as a girl. As he rises to power, Achilles encounters a bevy of gods and mystical figures, each imparting ruminations on fate, mortality and the tragic eventualities of love and war. Death the slaying of Troy's champion soldier, Hector; the 12 gruesome days spent parading his corpse via chariot; and Achilles' own demise is the work's central theme, but Cook also brilliantly narrates a series of passionate encounters, describing, for example, the exquisitely athletic fusion of King Peleus and Achilles' sea-nymph mother, Thetis. Cook's text is more lush prose poem than traditional narrative, its concentrated, intense verbiage exhibiting agony and beauty simultaneously. The heady brew is made even richer by Cook's brave incorporation of an episode from the life of poet John Keats in the surprising final chapter, which suggests a curious affinity between the prophetic writer and the slain hero. At 128 pages, Cook's tale is tightly woven, and this brevity makes for an extreme reading experience. The genre of retellings of classical epics will surely be reinvigorated by this slim, exceptional interpretation of the heroic fable of Achilles. (Feb.) Forecast: Rave reviews in Britain heralded the appearance of this potent work, and curiosity on these shores should be whetted by the book's haunting jacket, which features a massive ancient wooden gate in stark black and white. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Two Riversp. 1
Gonep. 59
Relayp. 93
Glossary of Classical Namesp. 109